The Lord has given me a word, and that word is comfort. In this Sunday’s lesson from Isaiah, I think the prophet announces something relatively new for his people. Usually, when someone came to God’s people and declared that God had given him a message for his people, the words that came out were not welcome. They usually meant that trouble was ahead. Typically, prophets came on the scene when people had forgotten how to live as God had asked them. The poor, weak, and vulnerable were oppressed by people in positions of power, and the prophet came to set things straight. But, this time, the prophet comes not to announce God’s words of condemnation but God’s message of redemption.
All of this suffering that you have endured through recent generations, the prophet declares, that was not empty pain. God was not absent. The depth of your agony was not an end in itself. Instead, the word that God offers is that your very pain is being transformed into your redemption. Now, despite all of that suffering and struggle, God is standing with you—and has been through it all. Who can compete with that?
In modern times, when someone stands up and declares that she or he has a word from God to share, it usually means that they want to be critical of something. The role of the prophet is much the same as it was in Old Testament times. Prophets don’t come to tell us that everything is just fine. They come to stir us up, and there are plenty of problems for them to point out. But what would happen if we had more prophets who focused on offering words of redemption rather than words of condemnation? If the world keeps telling us that we are broken, hurting, and suffering, shouldn’t we have messengers from God who remind us that our pain is not the end of the story—that even though our agony God is with us? Who can compete with that?